Growing together: Akridge Victory Gardens give families a chance to enjoy outdoors

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DOVER — The Del-Mar-Va Council of the Boys Scouts of America offered the public a chance to maintain a vegetable or flower garden when it opened the Akridge Victory Gardens near the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

It also gave families and individuals a rare opportunity to get out in the fresh air and spend some quality time together, as they watched their plants grow.

“For many, the opportunity to do an activity outdoors with their family was a big attraction,” said J. Ray Teat, director of special projects for the Del-Mar-Va Council. “One couple who gardened a single plot last year has reserved three additional plots this year and plan to divide the space up amongst their grandchildren to garden together.”

Eight 10-by-20-foot garden plots remain out of 36 that the council is offering for its second season of Victory Gardens, located at the Akridge Scout Reservation at 1910 Baden Powell Way, just south of Dover and adjacent to the Kent County Recreation Center.

“We had 23 families last year for the 24 plots we created,” Mr. Teat said. “So we added 12 more plots this year, and so far, 28 have been reserved, leaving eight more still available. If this continues to grow, we are able to make more space available by tilling more land.”

The plots cost $25 per growing season, which runs from April 1 through the end of November. Scholarships are available by request.

Garden plots are separated from each other by 20-foot-wide lanes to maintain social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The plots are plowed, tilled, nutrient-balanced and ready for planting. Water is available on-site, as well as a variety of gardening tools, seeds and some plants.

Participants may choose to provide seeds and plants other than those offered with the approval of the garden manager.

“We view it as an opportunity to help make families more self-sufficient in the current atmosphere of economic and food supply-chain uncertainty,” Mr. Teat said. “Today, we are in a war against the coronavirus, and the Boy Scouts are here once again to promote family self-reliance.”

More than a decade ago, Kent County Levy Court and the Del-Mar-Va Council entered into an agreement to purchase three parcels from the Harvey Kesselring family. The property was preserved for recreational and conservation uses — and eventually turned into the Akridge Scout Reservation.

The Delaware Department of Transportation and the Kent Conservation District were also involved in the agreement and work in concert with Kent County to effectively serve the property in each respective area.

The soil at Akridge was successfully farmed by the Kesselrings for many years and proved to be excellent for vegetable growing during last year’s inaugural Victory Gardens season.

Some of the most popular produce grown by 2020’s participants included beans, beets, cabbage, carrots, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, peas, tomatoes, turnips, squash and Swiss chard. On one plot, four tomato plants yielded more than 80 pounds of fresh tomatoes.

In many cases, abundant crops were shared by families with neighbors and the nearby Shepherd Place Homeless Shelter.

“Two young Scouts delivered nearly all of the produce they grew to Shepherd Place and learned the value of giving to others,” Mr. Teat said. “Their gardening merit badge counselor is returning this year and growing flowers.”

The Akridge Victory Gardens in Dover pay homage to Boy Scouts’ activities back in the World War II era.

Labor and transportation shortages due to the war in the 1940s made it hard to move fruits and vegetables to market. During this time, nearly 20 million Americans, encouraged in part by the Boy Scouts of America, planted their own Victory Gardens to supplement home grocery supplies.

They planted gardens in backyards, empty lots and even city rooftops.

Neighbors pooled their resources, planted different kinds of foods and formed cooperatives.

The Akridge Victory Gardens in Dover also will see a fair share of teamwork.

Vegetable gardening expert Michael McGrath, a retired chief of planning for the Delaware Department of Agriculture, serves as the education director and an all-around mentor for beginning gardeners and families at the site.

“Mike McGrath is on-site for a scheduled time twice per week and just drops by more often than that,” said Mr. Teat. “He takes his role as a gardening educator seriously and developed some close relationships with several gardeners last year, who, in turn, shared their experiences with others.

“He has posted a video series on our website that he is currently fine-tuning and emails the group regularly, as well.”

For more information or to register for a plot, visit here.